Two days after losing the special election for Gabrielle Giffords's old House seat, Republican Jesse Kelly has decided to forego a run for Arizona's new 2nd Congressional District this fall.
"Looking at the results from Tuesday, we have decided to withdraw from the race for Congress in AZ-02 and to seek other opportunities," Kelly said in a statement Thursday."I will forever be thankful to our generous supporters and volunteers."
Kelly's withdrawal vaults Air Force veteran Martha McSally to front-runner status for the GOP nomination in the new district. McSally finished second behind Kelly in the special Republican primary earlier this year, but she actually outpaced him in election-day votes just a couple months after joining the race with zero name recognition; Kelly won the special primary with a hefty early-vote advantage.
When McSally entered the Air Force, it was illegal for women to fly in combat, but she became the first woman to fly in that role after the ban was lifted in 1991, and later became the first woman to command a USAF combat squadron.
Some Republicans have griped that Kelly, with a whole 2010 election cycle of strident tea party rhetoric in his closet, was a flawed candidate, and McSally's personal story, candor, and fresh face will give the GOP a better shot at beating Democratic Rep.-elect Ron Barber in the general election. As the likely GOP nominee, McSally would have a tougher structural path to victory, though. After redistricting, the new seat is several points more Democratic than the old version, and Republicans' registration advantage is almost completely wiped out under the new map.
One other Republican, Mark Koskiniemi, has filed for the August 28 primary.